Will and Nick live in a one-bedroom flat, decorated in glorious palatial style (and have great parties…)
Above an antiques shop in the picture postcard village of Alfriston sits a very special home indeed. The moment the door opens to Will and Nick’s fabulous apartment, revealing a table lamp dripping with fat bauble-shaped candles on a green porphyry column and a 19th century German cuckoo clock hung on Fornasetti wallpaper by Cole & Son, it’s apparent these homeowners are not afraid to mix it up.
Nick and Will moved here from Buckinghamshire three years ago. Prior to moving Nick worked in the pharmaceutical industry and Will was a valuer at an auction house.
Will explains: ‘Nick’s mum lives in Bexhill and we used to come here for lunch. We fell in love with the village and when we saw this building for sale one day we just went for it. It’s a proper community here. Popping across the road to get a paper can take 15 minutes because you know everyone and always end up chatting.’
Will, who is rocking a look of vintage denim dungarees and a 1930s pillbox hat today, admits he was relieved to discover that ‘there are plenty of eccentrics and artistic types here so not only was I welcome, I fitted right in.’
The only drawback was that their house in Buckinghamshire was much larger but the flat above the shop, although well proportioned, was only a one bed. The solution? Open an antiques shop downstairs to sell what they didn’t want to keep.
‘It had got to the point where even in the old house we couldn’t keep on collecting because we just had so much stuff,’ says Nick. ‘Opening a shop was a way we could carry on sourcing things.’
Will also opened a vintage dress shop next door. He says vintage clothes ‘are a passion that has become an obsession’. The shop is decked out like a fantasy Hollywood dressing room and is a veritable treasure trove of old school glamour, sequined sparkly dresses, feathery hats and evening bags.
Jewellery has been another of his great passions since childhood when his glamorous grandmother used to give him extra pocket money for cleaning hers. ‘I loved seeing it all spread out on the dining room floor.’
So, with the two shops a sort of extended version of their old home, Will and Nick made their own nest in the apartment above. It is by turns splendidly grand, imaginative and fun.
The dark blue painted stairwell features a diverse array of paintings and prints including more Fornasetti, which Nick collects, oil paintings bought at auction and a wonderful piece by local artist David Apps which looks like an antique old master but on closer inspection features Mickey Mouse. It’s a fun burst of the contemporary amid the old. Apps is a friend who has a gallery in the village.
The stairs lead to an ochre-painted hallway dramatically set with cast-iron antique urns holding piles of antique coral and shells; and a German Empire style Biedermeier chest on which sits a pearl inlaid wooden crucifix and ornate candlesticks.
At one end of the hall is a pretty green-painted kitchen with gorgeous views over the surrounding countryside. The room is dominated by a William Speakman long-case clock and an 18th century oak dough-bin table. Will demonstrates the pull-out drawer (or bin) under the table where traditionally dough would be left to rise overnight.
The 17th century oak chairs are mismatched auction buys. The gorgeous silverware on the table is Old Sheffield Plate, something Will collects because he enjoys the fact it was designed ‘for ordinary people to give a less expensive impression of grandeur. After 200 years of polishing the copper shows through which gives it a lovely warm glittery effect.’
On the chimney breast hangs a 19th century French mirror, flanked by a pair of pretty 18th century Venetian mirror paintings. Tucked in a corner is a George II bureau bookcase which Nick, who also works as a freelance writer, uses as a writing desk. Another wall is flanked by a 19th century bread rack which doubles as a TV unit.
‘It still has the original paintwork,’ says Nick. ‘That’s why I fell for it.’ The bread rack is cleverly backed with curtains which hide the television cables. Sitting on top of it is a lovely vintage doll’s house which on closer inspection is made from old fruit crates.
By the door sits a round Edwardian display table housing a collection of pug-related antiques (Nick and Will have three dogs of their own).
‘This table did have a glass top’, laughs Will. ‘But we had a party recently which ended with a guest falling on top of it. We laughed. Of course we don’t like it when things get broken, but we’d rather enjoy using things than hide them away. When people first visit, they do tend to wander around like it is a museum but then they see how relaxed we are and they relax too.’
And that laid-back attitude to their treasures is also on display in the sumptuous red-painted sitting room at the other end of the hall. The first thing Will points out is a George II birdcage table, originally designed for afternoon tea parties. Will demonstrates how it swivels round, ‘a bit like a lazy Susan. Back in the day the hostess would pour, then swivel to her guest, then pour another cup and so on.’
These days the table is used as Will’s cocktail mixing bar. It is set with French crystal champagne coupes and vintage cocktail shakers on a silver tray.
‘That set of glasses used to be much larger but we’ve lost a few,’ says Will. ‘My cocktails are strong so that’s just how it is. I try not to worry about how old or valuable something is. It was all made to be used and not just looked at. What’s the point of keeping things hidden in a drawer?’
The sofa in the room looks like it has seen a few good parties over the years too. It is 1920s with naked ladies carved on the legs in the medieval revival style. Will had planned to reupholster it but has grown attached to the tatty original yellow cushions, so has left it as it is.
The sofa is joined by mismatched cosy armchairs with plenty of soft throws and cushions. But the look is modernised by the juxtaposition of more of Nick’s Fornasetti collection including a glass coffee table and a stunning print which takes up an entire wall.
In the corner is a bookcase displaying some highly unusual objects such as Chinese carved amber and a piece of a Flemish door arch dating from around 1500, together with a pair of striking Regency-era Derby tazzas (originally used for displaying sweetmeats and fruit).
But it’s the textiles and art that really bring this room to life, such as the tapestry behind the sofa which Will has dated to around 1580.
‘My real pride and joy are the curtains’, explains Will. ‘They were miscatalogued in an auction, so I got them for a bargain. They are in fact early 20th century metallic printed on silk by Mariano Fortuny. He perfected a secret technique of printing on silk and velvet with metal. They would have originally been very bright, but I love how over time they have faded to warm gold and red. They were too small for the windows in our previous house and I had them tucked away for ages so it’s wonderful they are the perfect fit for here.’
There is so much art lining every inch of wall it is hard to know where to start. It’s a smorgasbord of old masters, delicately framed miniatures, a Chinese silk mid century panel, a Napoleonic war love token and some 1770 coloured prints of the gardens of Versailles. Lining the fireplace are some beautiful old visiting cards Will found in a drawer in his grandparents’ home.
Also, on this level is a shower room made instantly glamorous with the addition of a large fern and a piece of 18th century Spitalfields printed cotton backed with waterproof calico and used as a shower curtain.
Another staircase, painted grey, leads us upstairs into a sunny terrazzo-yellow bedroom, dressing room and bathroom. ‘I wanted to go from dark colours downstairs and get a sense of sunshine the higher up we went’, says Will. ‘The paint is by the company Craig & Rose 1829 and is the same yellow Queen Marie-Thérèse used in her chamber.’
The French style bed is, surprisingly, a modern buy by Laura Ashley. Will bursts out laughing: ‘A bed is the only thing I like to have new. I love old upholstered chairs and sofas but the thought of bugs where I sleep freaks me out. I’m proper Princess and the pea. I have to have a bed piled high with two mattresses, a mattress topper and lots of proper quilts and blankets.’
Atop the bed sits an Indian tapestry, once a bullock blanket used for processions. Like Will’s other textiles, the original colours have faded in a way he loves. The bed is flanked by two Fornasetti table lamps, in a fun touch both are topped with vintage hats. At the base sits a lovely 17th century oak chest, useful for storing all those blankets.
At one end of the room is a beautiful Tudor table dating from the period of King Henry VIII, the aged patina of which could surely tell a few stories. Will says: ‘It would have been a centre table in a grand hall. It’s really too big for in here but I could never sell it.’
But the real fun in this bedroom starts when we explore the contents on top of the table. There are photos of Will’s family, including the grandmother who was such an influence on his style; 19th century vases; a Chinese export punch bowl; an ornate Victorian hand mirror and bottles and bottles of antique perfume.
It seems perfume is Will’s biggest passion of all. He’s been collecting antique bottles (and the scents still contained in them) since his teens. ‘My grandmother used to give me the perfumes she didn’t like. Memories through smells are a big thing for me. And I’m totally in love with the history behind perfumes and the people who wore them. Changes in perfume trends were indicative of changes in society. I do a lot of research into the ones I buy.’
Will’s perfume bottle collection is over 400 strong, all discovered in auctions, car boot sales and junk shops. ‘My eye is trained to spot them wherever they hide,’ he laughs.
Some of his bottles are small and ornate, others are large ‘factice’ bottles from shop displays. ‘It is amazing how they can last. I have Edwardian perfumes which I wear today’, he says.
Elsewhere in the bedroom is a 1930s sofa which was the first piece of furniture Will ever bought. ‘I was broke, so I upholstered it myself using a dust sheet and a staple gun.’
There’s also a mid-century French armchair draped with a paisley shawl, a ‘Grand Tour’ marble-topped table and a beautiful early 19th century kneehole desk, which belonged to Will’s grandmother and which he uses as a dressing table. Standing in discreet attendance is a Deco walnut make-up stand by Maple and Co. The drawers inside are packed with an array of vintage powder puffs and more perfume bottles.
It’s a super-eclectic mix but it works beautifully with Nick and Will’s grand yet lived-in vibe. As Will describes it: ‘I wanted to create the sense that everything had already been here forever, with subsequent generations coming along and each adding their own pieces.’
That couldn’t be more beautifully illustrated than at the bottom of the stairs, where hangs a lovely tribute to Will’s greatest passion. Nick commissioned artist David Apps to make a beautiful vintage mirror frame set with miniature perfume bottles, the ultimate thoughtful gift for a home full of love for both the personal and the historic.
The Fornasetti lamp shades in the master bedroom are topped with vintage hats. The tapestry over the bed is an antique ceremonial Indian bullock blanket
A column on the stairs holds some of Will’s large collection of perfumes. The walls are painted in Paynes Grey by Craig & Rose 1829
In the drawing room a Fornasetti print hangs over a sofa covered in a 1920s armorial tapestry. The chair is upholstered with a rare 18th century Turkish needlework
The tapestry on the facing wall of the sitting room is dated to around 1580. Will found the early 20th century Fortuny curtains in an auction. A painting hangs on the back of the door
The hall walls are hand-painted marbling. The cast-iron urns are 18th century continental
Looking from the first-floor hall into the sitting room
The 18th century kitchen table is a baker’s dough bin
More of Will’s vintage perfume bottle collection, displayed in the dressing room and the master bedroom
More of Will’s vintage perfume bottle collection
The 19th century German cuckoo and quail clock is mounted on the Fornasetti Mediterranea wallpaper by Cole & Son
Will uses his grandmother’s desk as a dressing table. The painted pottery ladies were made by a friend
A stack of Hermès boxes on the upstairs landing
Will’s vintage dress shop next door is a veritable treasure trove of old school glamour
Vintage luggage alongside a 1920s evening coat and a pink Jean Muir cocktail dress
Will and Nick’s antiques shop underneath the flat was initially opened to sell all the things they couldn’t fit into their new home from their previous large house
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